Radio conversations have shown that in the moments after Lewis Hamilton overtook Jarno Trulli in the Australian Grand Prix McLaren’s first concern was to ensure they had not broken any rules.
The responsibility for the controversy that ensued lies as much with the FIA and the stewards as it does McLaren.
Here’s how Martin Whitmarsh explained the discussion on the McLaren pitwall after Hamilton had overtaken Trulli:
As soon as that happened, we then spoke to Race Control, to explain that and ask if we could retake that place. At the time, understandably Race Control was busy and they were not able to give us an answer. We asked several times, but clearly they were very busy. So we had to then deal with it.
It is doubtful a controversy quite as unnecessary as the one we have just experienced in F1 could happen in sports like Indy Car or NASCAR.
Why? Because they have established the practice of using race control to resolve queries like this to minimise changes to the race order after the chequered flag.
If a driver appears in the wrong position during a safety car period, they don’t wait until after the race to shuffle the order around. And they certainly don’t do it by handing out an arbitrary time penalty that bears no relation to the severity of the infraction, as Jarno Trulli originally experienced.
They use common sense. They radio the teams, tell them to swap their drivers around, and the job is done quickly and painlessly.
After the Spa controversy last year Max Mosley made it known that teams should not consult race control (in the form of race director Charlie Whiting, mentioned in the McLaren transcripts) on such matters.
This is a mistake. By denying teams the opportunity to sort out problems with Race Control quickly Mosley is dooming F1 to suffer a cycle of scandal after scandal.
Indy Car run races on tracks comparable in length to F1 venues, with more cars. If they can use race control to resolves problems like this quickly, F1 can too. And it must.
Evidence and rules
This weekend we saw the first signs of the FIA’s promises to make the stewarding process more transparent in 2009. There were some obvious improvements: radio broadcasts and transcripts were published on the FIA’s website.
But there is much room for improvement as well. Not least the fact it took until four days after the race for this material to appear.
The reasoning for some of the decisions were woefully thin. Sebastian Vettel was handed a penalty because “caused a collision and forced a driver off the track”. There are no details why he was the one considered responsible. It later emerged FIA steward Alan Donnelly took him to one side at Malaysia and explained the reasons in greater detail, but the public has not been given this information.
The FIA have made some improvements to how they communicate their stewards’ decisions and it is appreciated. But far more is needed than these cosmetic changes. We need clearer and more explicit rules for driving standards and far greater detail given in the reasoning behind decisions.
But more than anything else, someone needs to see sense and start using Race Control to avoid minor misunderstandings needlessly spiralling into something that damages F1’s credibility.
With that, assuming there are no major developments in the Hamilton-Trulli story this weekend, let’s get back to the racing.
Read the first part of this post: Two sides to the Hamilton-Trulli controversy: Hamilton apologises